The Clean Water Blog

Fairfax County Leadership Needed to Fight Climate Change

The economic and social impact of climate change on our communities cannot be understated. With the risk of increased flooding and drought, and the Trump Administration’s promise to scrap regulations restricting production of fossil fuels, the need for local authorities and community-based organizations in the development of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies has never been this urgent.

Cool Counties Fairfax: Underfunded, Understaffed

In 2007, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and other municipalities signed the “Cool Counties” initiative – committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from public and private sources by 80% by 2050. Since then, local municipalities such as the District of Columbia, and Arlington and Montgomery counties have been reporting on their progress and showing reductions in GHG emissions. Fairfax County, however, has failed to fulfill its commitments and fallen far behind neighboring jurisdictions’ environmental programs and policies.

Since 2011, Fairfax has followed through on just two of 24 climate-oriented recommendations made by an Environmental Advisory Council appointed by the board of supervisors, and currently dedicates a single environmental coordinator to help with the initiative. In contrast, Arlington County has 8 staff dedicated to clean energy transition with a $1.75 million budget. No doubt Fairfax County’s leaders want to do what’s right.

Think Global, Act Local: Cities and Counties Key to Fighting Climate Change

The extent of climate change that we will see in the future really depends on the actions we all take now to reduce our use of fossil fuels. While international agencies and national governments play important roles in establishing and channeling resources and technical support, effective adaptation takes place through the dynamics of local governance, civic engagement, and economic development.

Local officials are often the first responders when an extreme weather event affects their community. But local governments aren’t just responding to climate change, they are leading the fight against climate change. Across the country, cities and counties are taking decisive action on transportation emissions, urban biodiversity, urban regeneration, and stormwater management. As more communities experience the immediate and long-term effects of climate change, proactive leaders and solutions are needed today more than ever.

Wanted: Fairfax Climate Leadership

Eastern sections of Fairfax County already face increased risk from flooding associated with sea-level rise. Climate change puts the health of residents at risk due to increased respiratory diseases associated with milder winters and longer, hotter summers. If we do not reduce the amount of GHGs, we will see a greater degree of climate change. Ultimately success in climate adaptation and reducing GHGs must be measured in terms of impact on the ground. That is why Clean Water Action joined with Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions and other local environmental and civic groups to hold Fairfax County accountable for the following implementations beginning in 2018:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive plan to meet your stated goal of a minimum 2% annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions within the county geographic area, leading to an 80% reduction by 2050.
  • Establish a staffed Sustainability Office with a mandate for meeting the county’s goals, funded permanently by the county budget, and having a director reporting directly to the County Manager. The office’s activities could include proposing and implementing such programs as those related to energy efficiency, transportation, renewable energy adoption, public outreach and education, and engaging the business community.
  • Issue annual reports on your progress toward the goals, with the municipal energy dashboard as a good first step, to ensure that the county’s work is transparent and accountable.

We need local leadership on climate now more than ever. Local governments like Fairfax County have the opportunity and responsibility to act on climate change. We are calling on the board of supervisors to fulfill its own climate commitments and finish the work started a decade ago.